Giving your school leaver the edge: work experience

26 November 2015 | Advice for Parents | Guest Author

Research continually points to the fact that school leavers who have some work experience under their belt will have better prospects of securing a place on a school leaver or apprenticeship scheme, or indeed securing a job itself.

Employers will always look to find evidence that a job applicant is cut out for the workplace, and this applies even to school leavers. What better way for your teenager to prove to potential employers that they are ready for work than by showing they've already got some experience?  Gaining work experience in a specific area and then pursuing a career in that area will also demonstrate passion and dedication which employers are always looking out for.

There is also a big advantage to the school leaver themself if they gain work experience.  It could offer them a chance to explore an industry, field or company in which they'd be interested in pursuing a career, and it wll also give them an all important taster of daily working life.  They may even gain the advantage of having a network of contacts ready to approach when it is time to leave school and find employment. 

Work experience placements

Work experience placements for those in year 11 and below are generally unpaid and can occur during term time. Schools and colleges will often help organise a week or more of work experience for their students and local organisations are approached routinely for placements. Your teenager may also ask a particular organisation to be approached on their behalf if they have a specific idea of where they would like to work.

If no work experience is organised by your teenager's school or college, they don't have to and should not miss out!  It is perfectly acceptable for your teenager to approach organisations directly to ask if they would take them on for a week or more of work experience.  

You can help your teenager by tapping into all the contacts you have at your own company as well as asking friends and family to do the same in order to find a suitable option. Your teenager can contact organisations they are particularly interested in and put themselves forward as a good candidate. They'll need to show that they:

1. Have a genuine interest in the organisation and see it as their potential future employer

2. Have a real interest in the industry or field in which the company operates

3. Understand that they will be expected to work and contribute in a valuable way to the workplace during their placement

4. Have some basic skills which could be useful, for example, being good at organising, good with particular tools or devices, good manner with customers and so on

They should also suggest periods of time when they would be available to undertake work experience e.g. during school holidays, specifying dates.

Part-time work

If it does not work out for your teenager to gain a specific work experience placement, then another way for them to gain valuable experience and prove to future employers that they are cut out to be a good employee is to undertake part-time work. 

Weekend, evening or temporary work in school holidays, even if not in the field your teenager ultimately wants to pursue for a career, will prove to future employers that the school leaver is capable of getting and keeping a regular job; that they understand and can cope with the responsibility. These stints of employment can also yield the all-important employer references which later employers will seek.

Encourage your teenager approach their job with the same attitude they will one day need for their long-term work and career. 

Volunteer work

If paid work of any sort is just not an option, then it is wise to encourage your teenager to take up some kind of volunteer work.  Whilst they may not earn money, they will prove that they can take on the responsibility of work and they will inevitably build up skills that will stand them in good stead for the work place: communication, team work, accountability, tenacity.  Volunteer work will demonstrate to future employers that work is not an alien concept to your teenager! 

How you can help

As well as tapping into your own network of friends and familiy with work contacts to find a placement, you might also have to help your teenager with the following:

  • Helpful input into application letters and forms (further help can always be found online!)
  • Investment in suitable clothing and footwear
  • Travel to and from work
  • Support and encouragement to see it through

In the end, your effort and that of your school leaver to build up work experience will pay dividends as they come to apply for long-term, full-time work.

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